Do solar phone chargers work? Is a solar panel phone charger worth it? Or are they a waste of money?
I remember I received a solar phone charger many years ago as a birthday gift. At the time, I rarely went outdoors, and I never had a practical reason to use it, so it just gathered dust. When I did, eventually, dig it out of storage to test it, it didn’t even work.
But a lot has changed since then, and I have been keeping tabs on emerging solar-powered technology and products. And now that I rely on a trusty phone, I decided to take a closer look at solar phone chargers.
Let’s face it. Solar technology is the future, and it’s a shame there aren’t more solar-powered products. At the same time, carrying around a massive solar panel is not very practical. You would only really use them in certain situations, such as camping trips, hikes, and whatnot.
While it was the norm for solar phone charges to cost upwards of $100, now you can find quite a few that deliver decent charge, for a moderate price. For extra safety, consider using the solar charger to charge a portable battery, and then use the battery to charge your phone.
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Is a Solar Panel Phone Charger Worth it?
When used correctly, a solar panel phone charger can be worth it. But I do not recommend charging a phone directly from the solar panel. Instead, use a solar panel to charge a power bank, and then use the power bank to charge your phone. The reasons for that will be explained in the next section.
How Fast Can a Solar Panel Charge My Phone?
The ultimate question. Since a lot of factors are out of our control, such as the position of the sun and clouds, the time it takes for a solar panel to charge a phone varies widely. The charge time also depends on the specific solar panel you use.
However, in perfect conditions, a solar panel that has a 2.4A smart USB port should charge a regular phone from 0 to 30% in a couple of hours or so. Bear in mind, most solar panels don’t support fast-charging so you can’t expect the fastest charge time.
Once again, while you can directly charge your phone from a solar panel, I wouldn’t recommend it. Not only is the charge time slow, but your phone doesn’t work well in the heat. Even if you hide it under the panel, it will probably still get too hot.
That’s why I recommend using a power bank. You can also use a power bank to supply power to a portable monitor.
Reasons to Use a Portable Solar Panel:
Extended Camping Trips in the Wild
The call of the wild. You want to run away from the city to spend a few days (or more) completely disconnected in camping nature. Naturally, to disconnect from the world and social media, you’re probably not planning to use your phone.
This is where a solar phone charger would be useful. All you have to do is unwrap the panels, making sure they’re in the most well sunlit area and plug in your phone.
Bear in mind, phones don’t work great under direct sunlight, so it’s recommended to place the phone in a shaded area. Go about your business, and the solar charger should charge your phone.
These panels are also great for exploring islands, such as the Philippines, or Thailand, and other tropical countries. Most tropical countries receive a good amount of sunlight, more than enough to get a decent charge from a solar panel.
As an aspiring wildlife photographer, this point resonated with me the most. Let’s face it, there’s nothing more anything that that blinking low battery notification. A portable solar panel can keep your backup batteries charged while you’re searching for animals to photograph.
There’s one video I came across by Marten Hilmer, a wildlife photographer, where he shows his solar setup. It’s very interesting to see how wildlife photographers keep their equipment charged.
I admit I spent a bit too long watching Marten’s videos because they’re incredibly engaging and peaceful.
Planning to get you your freak on? There are a number of festivals in the middle of nowhere, far from any power source.
If you have a tent, you could consider propping a solar panel on one side, to charge your devices, or a power bank, while you take part in the festivities.
Overall, there are a number of ways portable solar panels can be useful.
Living Off the Grid:
A lot of people who are interested in solar panel chargers are living off the grid, in vans, mobiles homes, mini-houses, and whatnot. When you’re parked in one place for a while, it makes sense to use solar panels.
The cool thing is if you have enough solar panels, you can charge all kinds of equipment, even laptops, and displays. Really, there’s no limit to what you can do with these things.
But let’s move on.
What You Need to Know About Solar Panel Chargers:
Don’t worry, we won’t be getting into the super-technical details here. But there are some important things you need to know.
First off, the advertised output on solar panels is calculated based on best-case scenarios, in reality, the output is much lower. What you need to know is the output of solar panels can vary dramatically based on a number of factors, such as cloudy days, the angle of the solar panel, or the time of day.
Solar panels usually still work during overcast days, they can even work indoors, to an extent, but the output won’t be great. For the best results, you want direct and clear sunlight hitting those panels.
And you also want to prepare for the chances that you might not see the sun for a while. What this means is you need to make sure you have backup batteries to charge your most important equipment.
Invest in Good Portable Batteries!
That brings us to the next point. Investing in a good set of portable external batteries can be a huge help in certain situations. Most hikers carry at least two in their backpack at all times, one for everyday use, and one for backup.
As I mentioned before, when it comes to using solar panel chargers, the best solution is to use them to charge your external batteries. Not many people use solar panels to charge their phones. What kind of battery should you get? That depends. I recommend mid-size batteries, around the 20,000 mAh mark.
Here’s one I recommend, it’s an Anker PowerCore 20,000 mAh that can charge most phones from 0 – 100% five times. It also supports fast charging (for certain devices) so it’s definitely worth a look.
The idea is to use the solar panel to keep your power bank charged, and then use the power bank to charge your other devices.
Recommended Solar Panel Chargers:
Now that you have an idea of how these solar panels can be useful, I’ll show you some of my recommended solar equipment.
The first thing you need to know about this portable solar panel is that it’s not budget-friendly. I would say it’s more on the pricey side. So if budget is a problem, then I suggest skipping this one. Regardless, it’s one of the best portable solar panels on the market.
The main feature of this portable solar panel is that it’s foldable, so you can easily pack it into a backpack. The total weight is about ten pounds, nothing too heavy. When folded, it kind of looks like a briefcase, with all the appropriate handles, making it very easy to carry.
As for the specifications, there’s a good reason it’s the most popular portable solar panel (that’s a lot of Ps!). The panel has a number of ports, with varying outputs. The DC output is rated at 18V max, and the charging port is rated at 10W.
One cool thing about this portable solar panel is it has three USB ports, and when you use two, the output is the best. Speaking of USB, this solar panel uses a technology called 3-USB Smart Charging which basically adapts the power based on the connected device.
As for the solar panel itself, it’s rated at 100 Watts with a 21-23% efficiency. It’s also supposed to be water-resistant, so no need to worry about it getting wet during those tropical sun showers. As a matter of fact, you could leave it outdoors all day without any problems.
Overall, it’s a great portable solar panel, but it’s not the best for budget-minded people.
If the price point of the above solar panel threw you off, then this one might appeal to you. Although you shouldn’t expect the absolute best from this panel, it does deliver enough power to keep the usual electronics charged.
Right off the bat, it’s another foldable design, and it weighs about 1.13 pounds, making it one of most lightweight solar panels out there. The outdoor hooks on either end make it very easy to hang on branches or other objects. For the price, size, and weight, the specifications are decent too.
The solar panel has two USB charging ports, but no other ports. The advertised efficiency is between 21-24% and the solar panel is rated at 21 Watts.
When used together, the two USB ports can output a combined power of 5V. While the output isn’t the best, there are a couple of tricks to get the most out of this budget solar panel.
For one, buy a battery pack or power bank. When charging devices directly, this solar panel doesn’t work so well. It’s better to use the panel to charge a separate battery, and then use that battery to charge devices.
The bottom line is the Nekteck 21W portable solar charger is a good budget-friendly solar panel.
Here we have another decent budget-friendly portable solar panel charger. The design is very similar to the previous products; it’s foldable, lightweight, and it has three USB chargings ports.
A couple of things to note. The Big Blue 3 doesn’t offer direct charging for some devices. For example, the Ipad Pro is not supported. Generally, devices that require 5V or more, won’t be supported. It also includes a Micro-USB cable, which most phones don’t use any more.
But that’s okay because I think it’s better to use solar panels to charge an external battery, instead of your devices directly.
- Solar Panel Rating: 28 Watts
- Max output: 5V
- Panel efficiency 21-23%
- Waterproof and dustproof
- Three USB Ports
- Weight: 1.35 pounds.
Overall, the BigBlue 3 is a decent lightweight solar panel for camping and whatnot. Bear in mind, it’s a budget-friendly model, so you shouldn’t expect fast charging or other exceptional features. For the most part, it works okay.
There are lots of these portable solar panels on the market, and most of them are about the same. It’s up to you to find one that works for your devices and your situation.
Is a Portable Solar Panel Good for Hiking?
Most of the solar panels we mentioned have pictures that show a solar panel attached to the back of a hiker’s backpack. The problem here is that, from what I experienced, attaching the panel like that is very uncomfortable. In some cases, the end of the panel can bump into your legs when you’re walking.
You can use a portable solar panel for hiking but bear in mind it might be uncomfortable. I recommend keeping the solar panel inside your backpack and wait until you take a break or set up camp to use it. Carrying it around on your backpack, when fully unfolded, is uncomfortable.
You’re free to try it out. Maybe it won’t bother you.
Conclusion: What Do You Think?
Now it’s your turn. What do you think about portable solar panel chargers? Do you think they’re useful or a waste of money? Have you ever tried one? Share your opinions in the comment section below.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article on solar panels. I hope one day we can rely more on solar panels and other forms of green energy. I think carrying a lightweight foldable portable solar panel in your backpack during hikes is a good idea.